Kenneth Mars, 1936-2011

Kenneth Mars, 1936-2011 (photo)

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On my parents’ first date in 1968, they went to see Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” I often wonder how differently things would have gone if they hadn’t picked such a great movie. What if they’d gone to “The Love Bug” instead? Would I even be here now? Maybe not.

Not surprisingly, then, I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Producers.” My favorite scene has always been the one in which scheming Broadway entrepreneurs Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) go to meet the writer of the play they believe has the best chance to become the biggest flop in theater history. The play is “Springtime For Hitler,” a “gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.” The writer is former Nazi turned paranoid bird collector Franz Liebkind. Liebkind was played, in a Comedy Hall of Fame performance, by Kenneth Mars, who sadly passed away yesterday after a fight with pancreatic cancer at the age of 75. Here is that scene.

Mars’ role is maybe the most important role in “The Producers.” It’s certainly the trickiest, since he’s got to play a funny and even sympathetic Nazi. The film’s whole conceit falls apart if we don’t laugh at — and kind of like — Franz Liebkind. Mars made it work by striking just the right notes of madness and innocence. Franz’s intentions aren’t good, but they are, in a very twisted way, sort of pure: he just wants people to know “the real Hitler,” who was such a good dancer and painter (“Hitler, there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon: two coats!“). And that’s how Mars played him. Really, Franz is kind of sweet. You almost feel bad for the way these shysters are treating him. And he’s the Nazi!

That sort of charmingly harmless villain in the Liebkind-mold became something of a Mars trademark. He worked with Brooks again in “Young Frankenstein,” playing Inspector Kemp, the man on the trail of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster who is constantly at war with his own mechanical limbs (and thus poses no threat to our heroes). He did a lot of television, voiced a lot of cartoons. He often gave performances better than the material he was in deserved. By the time he joined the “Police Academy” series for “City Under Siege,” the franchise was totally played out. But that didn’t stop him from being hysterically funny as the Mayor and — SPOILER ALERT! — the film’s surprise twist villain. As the Mayor, he has a hilarious tic: he constantly forgets incredibly obvious words, letting Mars riff and fumble every line of dialogue he’s got. And when he’s finally unmasked, “Scooby-Doo” style, he giggles and taunts the heroes with infectious glee. Sure he’s evil, but he’s just having so much fun!

Mars made it look easy, but it wasn’t. For proof, check out the 2005 remake of “The Producers,” based on the very successful Broadway musical. Will Ferrell plays Franz Liebkind and, for one of the very few times in his career, he’s just not funny. Too much mania, not enough heart. Most of the “Producers” remake cast, imported from Broadway, had long made their parts their own. But watching the new “Producers,” we miss Kenneth Mars. Now more than ever before.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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